Who are we
We are a family of 3 who took a break from our routine. Usually we live in Scotland but February to the end of July 2011 we were on the road in North America for 6 months. We are Mark (also known as Dad), Rachel (also known as Mum... and a whole bunch of other names... my usual at-home blog is here) and little h (10/11 years of age during the trip).
Friday, 10 June 2011
California part four –big screens, giant trees and hidden beaches
So where were we going that Saturday after San Francisco…?
Well, first we were heading for our second Concord (we went to Concord in Massachusetts back in March). And why? Because Concord, California has a drive-in movie theatre and we had promised h, the movie fan, that we’d try and find one to visit. Also we were pretty frazzled after all the San Francisco activity and Concord wasn’t too far away and it looked small and uncomplicated. Before the movie in the evening however we had something else to find… somewhere showing the European Cup/Champions League football/soccer final for Mark (ever the sports fan). He had found a place (‘British pub’) online in Concord and it looked hopeful but when we got to the address there was no ‘pub’ to be found (gone years ago according to locals… damn that internet and its promises…).So with the match pretty much underway at this point we had to find an alternative. And we were at the edge of Concord in Clayton (kind of quiet suburbia) … what would we do?
Over the parking lot I spied a sleepy-looking bowling alley (it was Saturday morning, Memorial Day weekend). I remembered that the bowling place in Barstow, CA had had a lot of screens for sports TV viewing so I suggested we take a look. It wasn’t quite the hi-tech place we’d visited in Barstow and to begin with it seemed hopeless… until just on my way out I saw a Budweiser sign and realised that there was a bar in the side of the bowling alley… almost behind a secret door. I went in and a very nice lady was putting on her make-up at the end of the bar (there was only one customer… it was very quiet). They had on the TV with car racing and I asked (in my best English lady voice) if they might possibly, if it wasn’t too much trouble, put on the soccer for the gentleman in our party? “Why sure, honey,” said the lovely lady as she changed the channel, switched it over to a huge screen and gave Mark free popcorn. It was a slightly odd way to watch a major cup final I think but he saw it anyway. And Man United lost (never a disaster for someone from Yorkshire). As Mark watched h and I had another go at bowling (not bad), ate fast food, ate free popcorn. It was all strange… but not unpleasant.
After this odd start to the day (first the San Francisco British shop, then the British pub incident) we went and found our place for the night in Concord and pretty much lay low for a few hours. The drive-in didn’t start till nearly 9pm so we needed to conserve some strength. H had picked ‘Kung-Fu Panda 2’ as her movie of choice and so at something between 7 and 8pm there we were…driving in. This drive-in place wasn’t like the old-style one we had passed in San Luis Obispo however – it seemed to be a fairly new operation with two separate screens and all part of a company that has quite a few sites around the States. We parked up (3 rows in – best place so we were told), perused the fast food and observed how others were tackling the event. We were interested to see that some people (with big hatchback boots/trunks in their cars/vans) had parked in backwards and their kids sat in the boot to watch (with the hatch open). Others had brought picnic chairs and were sitting out (it wasn’t that warm as it happened…). Some (like us) were just sitting in the car (though I let h have the front seat). In the quite long wait for the movie there was a good atmosphere – kids were playing all around, Dads were chewing the fat (some even smoking cigars…). We just sat and waited… our radio tuned in to the correct frequency for the movie sound (that’s the way they do it now – no more little speakers on the side of the car). Finally at something like 9pm when the sky was dark and patience wearing thin the movie started… and it was a lot of fun. H really enjoyed the experience and it was kind of amazing to see a screen surrounded by sky like that (I’ve seen outdoor movies before but this is kind of different somehow - Mark had been to a drive-in once in the past… he saw ‘Ghostbusters’ so that shows you how long ago it was…). H especially liked that you could see the movie on the other screen if you turned round and looked over the parking lot (it was the new ‘Pirates’ one… and it was a separate area but we could still make it out fairly clearly). The 9pm start did make it a fairly late night… but it was worth it. You really can’t beat the big screen.
On the Sunday (29th May) we left Concord and drove north towards the Napa Valley. One of h’s very favourite films is partly set in that area (the remake of “The Parent Trap”) and so, although she has no interest in wine as yet, she was keen to see that part of the world. We probably wouldn’t have driven hundreds of miles out of our way to get there just for that reason but as it was it was pretty much on our route north anyway. By this time, however, it was deep into Memorial Day weekend so we were not the only people heading into the Napa Valley on this sunny Sunday… but never mind, I guess you have to hit the crowds some time. It did make for the slightly surreal sight of a road pretty much filled with cars in the middle of a tranquil valley of vineyards… but somehow it still managed to be quite picturesque. We stopped, we tried wine (a tiny bit), we ate a meal on a pretty terrace… it was very pleasant.
After the main Napa Valley (which is pretty packed with vineyards, tasting rooms, tourists on bikes etc.) we turned slightly west and passed a sign for a “petrified forest” just near Calistoga (see here). We turned in and took the little hike around a whole load of redwood trees that had literally been turned to stone by a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. It doesn’t look much in the photos but it was fascinating. Robert Louis Stevenson was there (some time back) and there is a tree named after him! After this we drove north to Cloverdale on the 101 and had another quiet night – pizza, laundry… all the good stuff. Photos from 28th and 29th (not including pizza or laundry) are here:
On Monday 30th May (Memorial Day – but most things seemed to be open) we drove north along the 101 towards unpetrified redwood trees and the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We stopped first at the Chandelier ‘Drive-thru’ tree (it’s simple – you pay $5 and you drive your car through a very big tree…or a hole in the trunk of a very big tree… and then there’s a gift shop). We had a picnic (of sorts) once we’d been through the giant tree and then we moved on.
After this we stopped at various points along the highway (house made out of a huge felled tree trunk, house made in the trunk of a living redwood etc.) and then we drove along the Avenue of the Giants and looked at lots and lots of redwood trees (they really are amazing to look at… and just to be around). We looked at the lovely Eel river that runs through the park too (and a guy tried to sell us meterorites/rocks for $50… uh-huh). It was all just gorgeous – and pretty quiet too considering it was a national holiday. Guess everyone was still in the Napa valley…
We headed up to Arcata for our overnight stay and noticed changes all around (suddenly everything was about lumber, cars were older, places were smaller, more businesses looked local, lots of eco and organic and so on). In Arcata the weather turned a bit grey but we stayed in another of the original old town centre hotels (lovely old rooms… more like a French hotel than a typical American one) and we were only there for the evening anyway. The hotel was full of noisy hippies (“could you slam that door a bit louder as you go off to buy munchies, please?”) but then the town did seem to have its fair share of hippies (dreads, old Volvos, backpacks) so that was not surprising. And it was a holiday. We had a nice dinner in an old store that had been turned into various shops and restaurants – all in the old plaza – and went to get some sleep (or not) before another day of redwoods. Photos of Monday 30th are here:
On Tuesday 31st May we dipped slightly south to Eureka (not a place that really lives up to that giant name from what we saw…) to show h their small zoo. It was quite a contrast to the bigger zoos we’ve already seen this trip in Toronto and New Orleans (and it was raining) but she still enjoyed it. The ‘stars’ of the zoo (red pandas) didn’t come out of their huts… and she still enjoyed it. She loves anything even remotely connected with animals.
After Eureka Zoo (Sequoia Park Zoo) we drove up to Trinidad (a little place on the coast) to see its lighthouse (and the inside of one of its restaurants). The weather brightened up again and lucky for us because the sea views were pretty spectacular there. Then we went further north and entered the Redwood National Park, went to the visitor centre, looked at lots of lupins, looked at lots more redwoods (super misty views – apparently it’s like that a lot), went for a bit of a walk round redwoods, drove through the Hoopa Valley Reservation and then found our motel for the night (Motel Trees – opposite a redwoods attraction called “Trees of Mystery” on highway 101). From our window we could see a huge mythical lumberjack (Paul Bunyan) and his equally giant blue ox (Babe). That was all pretty unusual.
The lady at the motel desk said there was a ‘hidden beach’ just half a mile or so down a path that led off near the motel car park so, after a quick DIY sandwich dinner in the room, we set off down that path in search of a good beach. The path was more like a mile long but it was lovely (enchanted forest territory) and there was no-one about and eventually we did indeed come across a really fantastic hidden beach (called “Hidden Beach”). We looked and played and took photos (of course) and watched the sun set (wow, wow, wow!). Then we walked back along the enchanted forest path and went to bed in our suddenly very cold motel room (further north and my, how the temperature had dropped!). Photos of Tuesday 31st are here:
The next day we packed up and went over to visit the “Trees of Mystery” place (how can you sleep opposite a giant lumberjack and not go over to say “hello”? Especially when he talks back… and he does!). The “trail” they had was OK – certainly some redwoods to see (one they call the “Cathedral Tree” that apparently frequently serves as a wedding location) but there wasn’t really anything you couldn’t see for free in the state parks and they kept quoting the Joseph B. Strauss “Redwoods” poem that I… can live without. They do have a cable car (the “sky trail”) that takes you up to the top of the hill (and up to the treetops, as it were) and we did get in and ride. It was pretty high… I could hardly look out of the windows… but the ocean views from the hilltop were worth it.
Back on land we went along their Paul Bunyan story trail too (it has wooden sculptures and recorded pieces to listen to) but it went on a bit and I can’t say it really held our attention (even h who loves stories). They have a collection of Native American artefacts too and we did look at that (heaps of stuff from all over the continent) but you can see that part of the place for free (it’s only the trail that you pay for).
After this we headed north, got lunch at Crescent City and then took the 199 towards Oregon, crossing the dazzling Smith river as we went. The 199 was another super-bendy through-the-mountains road (a sign said ‘rocks’ and, as if by magic, one did hit the car from up above – luckily no damage) but it was beautiful, really beautiful. I think we’d probably agree that the whole Northern California stretch was brilliant (the redwoods, the beaches, the feel of some wildness). Our photos of the end of our California trail are here:
And then there was Oregon… next time (we’ve got some blog catching up to do… we’re in Vancouver already in real time…).
Posted by Mark at 23:04